Sunday, August 20, 2006

Race Report:Parkersburg Half Marathon

ORN: 13.1 miles, 2:06:20, 9:40/mile

Quick Summary

Heat, humidity and hills all trump good intentions. They also teach good lessons. A well-organized event with a tough course. My 9:20/mile target crumbled at mile 9. And it was a good reminder to account closely for conditions on race day.

The Gory Details

Prerace. I drove the 7 hours to West Virginia on Friday and it was great to see my sister Karen for the second time in a week. We checked in and drove the course. The hills strained the mini-van engine. But did I modify my objectives? Nope. We had pasta and a good nights sleep.

Saturday morning, we got downtown early. My first clue that it would be a tough day was that I broke a sweat in the four-block-walk from the parking lot to the start area. Easily over 90% humidity and the temp was already in the mid 70s at 7am. Did I modify my objectives? Nope.

The race organizers really do a good job on this race. Parkersburg is a small city, a long ways from anywhere on the Ohio River, SE of Columbus Ohio. And this half-marathon is a Really Big Event there. The atmosphere at the prerace was terrific and well done, making the trip well worthwhile.

We lined up for the 8am start and off we went.

The Race. I really did try to hold to my 9:20 target. And man, was that hard. Mile one was net down hill and I hit the marker at 8:32. I rationalized the quick time by telling myself it was much downhill. Mile 2 though had a long uphill climb and it went by at 9:14. Closer to 9:20, but hey, it was uphill. I felt smug. And was soaked already. Should have been a reminder to me.

Miles 3-9 were mostly rolling rises and falls. During ths stretch we were treated to very enthusiastic water stop volunteers (they had 18 water stops for a 13 mile race...very impressive) and lots of residents in their yards, cheering, playing music and generally being very civic-minded. Mile 3 was better at 9:52, mile 4 at 9:25, mile 5 at 9:33. Still ahead of 9:20 on the Garmin, but coming back to normal.

Miles 6,7,8 came quickly, as I hit 9:36, 9:40 and 9:23 for each. Somewhere before the mile 9 marker, though, I hit that spot where I tried to keep the pace and simply could not. The legs would not respond. Mile 9 slowed to 9:48, followed by mile 10 at 10:00 even. At this point, with the sun out and (I found out later) the temperatures well into the 80s I came to the realization that I was not going to hold to the desired 9:20 pace overall.

Did I modify my objective? Finally. And only grudginly.

At this point, I decided to simply enjoy the rest of the race as best I could. At the 10.5 mile mark, I knew I'd see my sister and brother-in-law, who staked out a primo spot to watch and take photos. Karen got a surprise sweaty hug from me at this point (perhaps she will rethink how "primo" that spot really is) and I headed for the final 3 mile tour in the downtown areas.

Niece Amy had warned me about a killer hill at mile 11. It didn't seem that long in the car, only 300 yards or so. But the hill was steep, the day was hot, the legs were heading south and the hill headed north. I had a drink of Gatorade at the bottom and vowed to run all the way up. Half way, my legs cast their votes which outnumbered the number of votes by my brain. Thus mile 12 slowed to 10:46.

The last mile or so was flat then downhill through a really nice neighborhood just near downtown. On the drive through Friday night, I decided it would be a cool place to push things a bit towards the finish. Yeah, it did seem nice in the car to think that. Not going to happen though. I just jogged along and started thinking about my post-race routine. Mile 13 was 10:09. No sprint to the finish either. I just enjoyed the crowds and, for the first time ever, heard my name announced as a finisher. The announcer even pronounced my last name correctly (it is "e-lee"). A nice touch as I crossed the line at 2:06:20.

Post Race Did I mention this race was well organized? No different at the finish. They had plenty of room to get de-chipped, lots and lots of water and other fluids, food, wet towels, medical attention and encouragement. Nobody was pushy or whiny, like I've seen before.

I found my sister, she let me go walk and then we found a shady spot to sit. As I talked to her and then started looking around, I quickly observed I was feeling better than many others. Some were looking catatonic, others just fully wiped out. I didn't feel that bad, physically; many others were cramping and showing the various signs of dehydration. That's what the toughness of the day's conditions had done.

Further Reflection. In the hour or so after the race, I was disappointed in myself for missing my target by 4 minutes. Worse, I was discouraged about my prospects for Portland Marathon, now a mere 6 weeks away. There was no way I could have finished a marathon on Saturday; I probably could not have even gone 20.

Later in the day, though, I realized that a better view was to not count on a 9:20 pace if the conditions the day of the Portland race are not similar to the days on which I ran my good half marathons earlier this year; that is, cool-ish temperatures with moderate humidity on flat-ish courses. Take away those things, I have to back off on the pace. In short, I have to recognize what I can and can't control.

Every race has its lesson. And that's my lesson from the Parkersburg Half Marathon.

Pix later in the week.



Running Chick said...

As long as we put in the training...including the nutrition, hydration, rest, etc...we still can't control some of the surprises that race day may hold for us. All we can do is run the race placed before us. Which you did this weekend, and lived to tell about it. Isn't there some old addage about a bad dress rehearsal makes for an awesome opening night??

way to persevere joe!

Darrell said...

I give you a lot of credit for sticking to your plan until mile 9. I remember driving Seafair and nearly giving up my goal then.

With 6 weeks to go I wouldn't be too worried about Portland yet. It sounds like you had some pretty tough conditions here with the heat, humidity and hills. Nicely done, I say.

susie said...

You learned (and passed on) a tough lesson. I need to remember the same things. Great way to hang in there, Joe. You ran a smart race.

Anonymous said...

Hi Joe - I loved your reflection of race day in Pkbg! The hill at mile 11 is a killer even for the pros, and when the legs are worn and the sun and humidity are really coming out. I think that it is the difficulty of the course that has kept the race going for 20 years. It keeps people coming back year after year to test their minds and bodies. It would be fun to race it together someday! And I was glad that you were able to hear your name called as you passed the finish line. love, amy

runepv said...

I really enjoyed your perspectives on the Parkersburg Half, as my experiences and goals were very similar. The early hills and humidity killed any PR chances, so it was a matter of persevering. When you see Kenyan runners who dropped out by the side of the road, you know it's tough! But the best organized and enthusiastic race I've ever been to.

Really enjoy the blog and look forward to new entries.

George said...

Joe great race description. Really it is good to see that we all have bad days. Sometimes I forget that and get mad because I did not achieve my goal. Sometimes we just can not help it!

Keep Pressin' On!